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The river environment
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  Themes Homepage > Swan Upping
The river environment
Swan Upping

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Syon House, Boathouse
Syon House, Boathouse
A Tasty dish
Swans usually breed in their third year and prefer the islands and reed beds of the upper Thames to make their nests. The "cob" or male bird, and the "pen", the female, build and defend the nest together. Males may also take their turn to sit on the eggs.

Swans have been served at royal banquets for hundreds of years and were considered the property of the Kings and Queens of England. A few individuals and corporations were granted permission to keep a "game of swans" and this was controlled by the "Keeper of the Royal Swans," or Swan Master. The Worshipful companies of Vintners and Dyers have been granted permission to keep and mark swans since medieval times.
Bill marks
The ownership of the birds can be seen from marks on their bills. All unmarked birds belong to the Crown. Swans with a nick on one side of the beak belong to the Company of Dyers. Birds with a nick on each side of the beak belong to the Company of Vintners.

A range of elaborate designs used to be cut into the bills of the swans, and the bleeding was then sealed with pitch. In the 19th century, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals attempted to prosecute the swan herds employed by the Crown and the two city companies. As a result the markings were simplified in 1878 to minimise the impact on the birds.
Swan Upping (or 'swan-hopping') used to commence on the first Monday after St. Peter's Day and nowadays takes place in the second week of July. The Queen's Swan Marker and the Swan Uppers of the Vinters' and Dyers' companies row slowly upstream in traditional skiffs from Sunbury to Abingdon over a period of five days. The Lord Mayor, Aldermen, members of the city companies, nobles and other spectators used to travel upstream in state barges, but these were replaced in the Victorian era with steam launches. An annual banquet used to take place at Medmenham.

Swans are examined to identify their markings and the young, known as cygnets, receive the same marks as their parents. The ceremony now has a scientific purpose. All cygnets are weighed, ringed, and examined for injury. Brood sizes and the general condition of the swan population are recorded to ensure their welfare is maintained for centuries to come.
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  Themes Homepage > Swan Upping
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